Buffalo Thunder designed to dazzle

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By Carol A. Clark

POJOAQUE – Lightning flashes, thunder crashes and some lucky person caught playing the slots along Thunder Alley wins a big thank you reward from the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino.

This is but one of many surprises awaiting the throng of guests expected to visit New Mexico's largest resort and casino set to open Aug. 12.

Situated about 12 miles north of Santa Fe and just off NM 84/285 in Pojoaque, the enormous new resort nestled on 587 acres includes 390 Hilton rooms and suites, a 16,000-square-foot spa and a state-of-the-art casino.

A 66,000-square-foot event and conference center, indoor and outdoor pools, an Indian Cultural Center and seven restaurants, bars and lounges including the Red Sage Restaurant by renowned Chef Mark Miller are also included along with a 13,000 square-foot open-air promenade of shops and boutiques.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque and Hilton Hotels Corp. partnered to create Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. The Las Vegas-style gaming casino includes 1,200 slot machines from a penny to $100, 22 table games and a 10-table poker room.

Buffalo Thunder Casino General Manager Mike Allgeier was most recently vice president of casino operations for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Prior to that he was senior vice president of casino operations for the Las Vegas Hilton.

"Every detail is unique and top of the line," he said during a tour Monday. "Even the chairs are adjustable and swivel so they don't have to be pulled out."

Kelly Toscano is director of casino marketing. She is the former marketing manager for the Venetian Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and Harrah's Casino Resort in Laughlin, Nev.

"The casino is state of the art," she said. "We have the newest and most popular machines and the variety of our games and amount of wagers make us different from other casinos."

The ceiling in the casino alone is a multi-million dollar venture, said Richard Ross, the resort's director of sales and marketing. Ross has been with the Hilton hotels for seven years and involved with the resort since April 2007.

"The resort features authentic Pueblo architecture and design elements," Ross said. "Art and culture are such an incredible part of what we are doing here. We've deliberately and intentionally pulled in the ancient elements of pueblo style."

Pojoaque Gov. George Rivera was commissioned to create three bronze sculptures to be placed on the grounds of the resort. His 15-foot tall "Buffalo Dancer" was erected at the resort's entrance Monday morning.

Rivera worked with Thalden Boyd Architects and he and his team of artists from the pueblo approved wallpaper, carpeting and the artwork. Some 200 pieces of authentic American Indian art created by tribal artisans of pueblos throughout New Mexico are featured throughout the facility.

All of the paintings, drawings, tapestries, pottery, carvings, sculptures and other artwork were created specifically for the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino by Rivera and other Native American artists.

The grounds surrounding the resort offer outdoor recreation including equestrian trails, an outdoor tennis facility and the near by Hale Irwin and Bill Phillips designed Towa Golf Course.

Guest rooms and suites are themed in Native American decor featuring hand-crafted furniture, oversized windows and balconies, flat panel 37-inch televisions, in-room safes, the Hilton Serenity Collection with luxury bedding, a mini bar, high-speed Internet and on-demand movies and games.

The resort is geared towards a broad-based audience, Ross said. Parents are encouraged to bring their children as the resort offers an 8,000 square-foot children's activity center. The center includes a TV room, movie theater, library, computer lab and other activities geared to stimulate the younger set.

Space and activities also are available for everyone from vacationers to conventioneers, board members to conference participants. The facility also provides venues for weddings, galas, awards banquets and fundraisers.

Some 2,200 people have been certified to work on the $275 million facility since ground was broken in January 2007. Scheduled for completion in November, Ross credited contractor Balfour Beatty, an international leader in large construction projects for having completed the project ahead of schedule.

The timing is fortunate because the pueblo and Hilton partnered in a multiyear sponsorship with the Santa Fe Indian Market, which takes place later in August, so the earlier opening allows the resort to support travelers, vendors and artists attending Market.

The resort will employ about 700 workers on a daily basis, Ross said.

Buffalo Thunder will be open quietly for about a month before the formal grand opening celebrations scheduled for the week of Labor Day. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place Sept. 3.

For information, access www.buffalothunderresort.com